Why there is no such thing as a “good cop”

Police car with graffiti on it reading "To serve and protect the ruling class"When confronted with the idea that the modern police force is an oppressive institution, many people have responses along the lines of “… But not all cops are bad! There are a lot of good cops who are trying their best to keep us safe, and the actions of a few dirty cops give them all a bad name“.

However, there is no such thing as a good cop.

There are two simple reasons that we can say that every cop is a “bad cop”:

1)  Large numbers of cops beat people, shoot people, rape people, recklessly drive, steal things, fabricate evidence, intimidate the public, and a million other crimes and the so-called “good cops” do nothing about it. This is not something that is happening in a few isolated cases. Police violence is a daily occurrence in the U.S. Cops see their fellow officers harming innocent people, and still choose to side with the people who are doing it — they are thus complicit in all of the actions of these “bad cops” who they work with.

2)   Cops are tasked with upholding the law – it’s their job. Even if they actually do this, the laws themselves are fundamentally unjust. “Upholding the law” means destroying immigrant families, locking people in prison for possession of illegal substances, protecting the property of the rich, etc. That is, even a hypothetical cop that never does anything “illegal” (and I think it’s questionable whether they actually exist) is still enforcing unjust laws – they are the enforcers of state-sanctioned oppression and defenders of the rich. 

Don’t buy into the myth of the “good cop” – they don’t exist.

Compulsory “public” schooling as a form of social control

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?”

— Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison


Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.”

— Horace Mann, leading proponent of the “Common School” movement (1881)


During the 19th century, many large-scale changes in society were causing concern for wealthy elites in the United States. The growth of industrial capitalism had driven large numbers of people into urban areas, where poverty and abysmal living conditions were creating widespread unrest. Millions of people were immigrating to the United States from Europe, which stimulated xenophobic/nationalist fears about the destruction of American culture and the introduction of radical political ideas (e.g. socialism/anarchism) by foreigners. 

It is not a coincidence that the modern penitentiary, public schooling, mental hospitals, and police were all developed during this time. A similar ideology underpins all of these developments — an elitist one which sees most people as troublesome and ignorant, and in need of centralized scientific management by state institutions. Prisons and public schools ostensibly serve very different purposes. Prisons are perceived as a brutal punishment for the most vile and unethical members of society. While few people nowadays see them as having anything to do with “rehabilitation”, they are nevertheless believed to be a “necessary evil” — cruel perhaps, but needed to protect society from the darker side of “human nature”. Schools, on the other hand, are seen as playing a crucial role in early childhood development, instilling children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. Schools are seen as a fundamental right that all young citizens are not only entitled to, but should be forced to partake in for their own good (and for the good of society). In reality, however, these two seemingly distinct institutions are both outgrowths of the same set of social forms — i.e. industrialism, scientific management, and corporatism (the merging of the statist and capitalist bureaucracies — “regulated” capitalism). Both schools and prisons are centralized statist institutions which confine people against their will in a state-run facility, in order to “remake” them (on an industrial scale) into obedient citizens, zealous patriots, and hard workers for the benefit of a wealthy ruling class.

Good republicans … are formed by a singular machinery in the body politic, which takes the child as soon as he can speak, checks his natural independence and passions, makes him subordinate to superior age, to the laws of the state, to town and parochial institutions.”

— Noah Webster

The public school system as we know it today is mainly a product of what was known as the “common school movement” in the 1830s and 1840s. The idea of a common school is something that is nowadays completely normalized, but at the time was revolutionary (and widely resisted): a nationwide network of state-run facilities that all children would be forced by law to attend, and which would teach a common body of knowledge (chosen by state bureaucrats in education departments). These schools were seen by their proponents as a means of indoctrinating the poor (especially immigrant populations) with values such as obedience, Christianity, nationalism, and industriousness; and of preventing the spread of radical ideas such as anarchism and socialism. Social scientists had determined that many of the problems with the poor lay in cultural and genetic defects that promoted laziness, disobedience, and ignorance. Schools were seen as a way of systematically destroying this “culture of poverty” by ripping poor children away from the negative influences of their families and communities, and teaching them sound moral values and prepare them to lead successful lives as industrial workers.

When the movement for compulsory state schooling was in its earlier stages, large sectors of the public were strongly opposed to having their children taken away and indoctrinated by the government. In order to ensure that parents would hand over their children to be raised by the state, laws were passed to make state schooling compulsory — the compulsion being that of the police, courts, and prisons, and of children being taken away from their parents who are accused of “neglecting” them for not sending them to school. Resistance was particularly strong amongst socialists and anarchists who saw these schools for what they were (instruments of ruling class control), and attempted to create radical alternatives such as the Ferrer Schools and Modern Schools. The founders of these schools not only took issue with the nationalist/capitalist propaganda that was taught in public schools, but also with the authoritarian structure of schools themselves. The radical alternative schools not only wished to teach critical histories, anti-racist science, communitarian values, and other things that were not taught in state schools, but they also wished to serve as prefigurative models for the revolutionary society that they hoped would replace the capitalist system.

 “Our educational system is not a public service but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist.”

–Upton Sinclair, “The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education” (1923)

But the violent repression of radical social movements during and after World War I essentially neutralized organized popular resistance to the corporatist ideology pushed by the “progressives”, and the radical educational projects were largely destroyed along with the anarchist/socialist movement that created them. Public schooling in the United States experienced explosive growth during the corporatist “Progressive” era (around the same time that similar fascist movements were spreading across Europe). By 1920, 28% of all US children between ages 14 and 17 were enrolled in public high schools. By 1930 this number had increased to 47%, and by 1940 two thirds were enrolled. Over the years, this history has been erased, and nowadays most Americans see public schools as a basic human right, something that societies would disintegrate without, rather than an oppressive form of government intrusion into family life. A majority of Americans today, while feeling that public schools need to be reformed/improved, generally agree about their necessity and desirability, and willingly submit their children to be raised by the state.

Public schools are viewed as a means of economic advancement and social mobility within the capitalist system. The fantasy is that if everyone has access to a “good education”, then they will be provided with the necessary tools to “succeed” in the work force. The problem with this, of course, is that instead of teaching people how to dismantle the capitalist system and create a cooperative/egalitarian society, this strategy seeks success within it (based on the false assumption that the cause of poverty is lack of education or effort, rather than violent exploitation and oppression by capitalists). State-run schools will always be used to promote the interests of those who control the state (i.e. the wealthy ruling class). As Assata Shakur points out “No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them.” The liberation of the working class from capitalist oppression/exploitation will not come from “better educational opportunities” offered to them by the state. It will come from revolution that dismantles the state and capital, including the state-run indoctrination facilities known as public schools.

Spending six hours a day for twelve years in a place where they have virtually no say in anything, where being governed is all they know, a profound passivity becomes normalized, the hopelessness of submission becomes fixed deep below the child’s skin. It is a perfect preparation for the consumerist future that awaits them.”

— Isabelle Fremeaux / John Jordan: “Anarchist Pedagogy in Action: Paideia, Escuela Libre” (2012)

This is not to say that education is not important, or that there should be no schools. The corporate media debate surrounding public schools generally presents two options: the “liberal” option, of increasing funding to state-run schools and reforming them to provide a better education for everyone (b) the “conservative” option of shutting down all of the state-run schools and replacing them with for-profit capitalist “educational services” firms. Anyone who criticizes state-run schools is automatically assumed to be in the “conservative” camp, promoting privatization, or worse, the complete lack of educational opportunities. But there is also a third option: cooperatively-run free schools, coupled with a wide range of learning activities that take place outside of the school/classroom environment. That is, it is possible to criticize statist compulsory schooling and yet still support universally available free education. The question is, will this education be compulsory and controlled by the state/capital, or will it be voluntary and controlled by the people and communities who use it?

“Let us suppose ourselves in a village. A few yards from the threshold of the school, the grass is springing, the flowers are blooming; insects hum against the classroom window-panes; but the pupils are studying natural history out of books!”

–Francisco Ferrer (1909)

What does free education look like if it is not administered by the state? Unlike centralized statist models of education, there is no single blueprint that can be used to describe all education in an anarchist society. Education takes place in many different settings — in homes, community organizations, kitchens, reading groups, free workshops, factory floors, forests, art studios and science labs. Thus it’s important not to conflate schooling with education. Education can also take place in schools, but modern compulsory schooling has monopolized the claim to education in such a way that other forms of learning are not valued as much as time spent in a classroom under the tutelage of “experts”. Much of the knowledge that keeps our society functioning was not learned in schools (cooking, bicycle repair, child raising, gardening, etc), and when we are seeking to create radical forms of education, we must value these forms of learning that take place outside of the classroom, because society literally could not function without them.

But what is perhaps most the important difference between statist schooling and anarchist free schools is the structure of the school and the perceived role of education in society. Education is a central component of any revolutionary movement. Revolution is not simply the destruction of the currently existing order, but also involves building a new society based on solidarity, mutual aid, liberty, equality, etc. The creation of this type of society requires the active cultivation of these values in our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, etc. Thus radical education is not only about learning skills, facts, and abstract theories. It is also about learning how to live cooperatively as autonomous beings in a free society of equals. This is why one of the central features of the anarchist school movement is that they not only allow children to determine the content of their own education, but also put them in charge of the administration, maintenance and operations of the schools themselves and allow them to make collective decisions and resolve conflicts through communal assemblies. Rather than the industrialized, top-down model of schooling that teaches children to be obedient and dependent upon authority figures for guidance, free schools teach children to be creative and independent and to work in solidarity with each other to come up with their own solutions. Unlike statist public schools where values are taught but not clearly identified (very rarely, if ever, will you hear a public school teacher say “We’re trying to inculcate you with nationalism and teach you to be submissive to authority figures.”), in anarchist schools the values above are made explicit and children are taught to critically analyze their own and each other’s behavior to ensure that they are living up to these values. Here you will hearing children not only openly discussing concepts such as solidarity, conflict resolution, and communal responsibility, but actually practicing them on a daily basis.

Instead of teaching children to blindly follow authority figures and work in a capitalist economy, our schools need to teach rebellion against illegitimate authorities and how to live in solidarity and cooperation with other members of society. Public schooling, since its beginnings, has always been opposed to this goal. Radical education means the abolition of state schooling, and its replacement by anti-authoritarian, free alternatives that are run by the community and the students themselves.


* Avrich, Paul (1980) The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States; Princeton University Press.

* Haworth, Robert H. (ed) Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education; PM Press

* Nasaw, David (1981) Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States; Oxford University Press and Spring, Joel H. (1994) The American School: 1642-1993; McGraw-Hill International

* Rothman, David J. (1971) The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic; Little, Brown, & Co.

* Spring, Joel H. (1972) Education and the Rise of the Corporate State; Beacon Press

* Spring, Joel H. (1994) The American School: 1642-1993; McGraw-Hill International; p. 34

* Suissa, Judith (2010) Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective; PM Press

 Also, check out the documentary Free to Learn: An Experiment in Radical Education (69 min.)


Statist “gun control”: promoting an elite monopoly on armed violence

The most common solution put forth (by the corporate media) to address the high levels of gun violence in the United States is “gun control” —  that is, asking the state to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of firearms. Gun violence is a problem, and something needs to be done about it  But federal/state “gun control” legislation is not the solution.

"Photo of victims killed in drone strike on wedding convoy from Yemeni journalist & being circulated widely on social media."
Photo of victims killed in a U.S. drone strike on a wedding convoy in Yemen (December 2013) … The oligarchs who ordered and oversaw this act of mass murder will also oversee “gun control”. Do you trust them to make good decisions about who should and should not be armed?

There are several problems with asking the U.S. government to stop gun violence by controlling who has access to firearms and ammunition. The most obvious of these is that the US government is the single largest perpetrator of gun violence on the planet. It spends over $500 billion per year on military, police, and intelligence forces. The military has killed far (i.e. millions) more people than civilians with guns. They are also the world’s largest arms dealer — giving billions of dollars worth of weaponry to foreign dictatorships (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, etc.), paramilitary death squads, and domestic police forces. They oversee the largest prison system in the world (something that can only be maintained through the constant employment of violence). Why would we rely on these people to stop armed violence? When bureaucrats like Diane Feinstein (whose top campaign donors included several weapons manufacturers, and who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee which has overseen the torture and assassination of thousands of people) get up and talk about “gun control”, what they really mean is that they want to be in control of all of the guns, so they can continue using them to murder people who threaten corporate profits.

The second problem is that “gun control” does nothing to address the social causes of violence in our society — racism, militarism, sexism, economic exploitation, etc. Yes, it is true that firearms are frequently used by abusive men to murder their partners. However, when police are twice as likely to be domestic abusers as the general population, why would we expect that granting police a monopoly on firearms would protect women from gun violence? When we send millions of young men and women overseas to murder people in the name of the U.S. military, why do we act surprised when they come home and commit gun violence here? … The point is that we need to work towards social changes that address the root causes of violence, if we want it to stop.

Gun violence is a real problem (as we all were reminded of by the tragedy today), which we desperately need to come up with solutions as a community (working towards the ultimate goal of peaceful coexistence and universal disarmament). But the “gun control” debate (promoted by the corporate media) is totally backwards. If we really want to gain control of gun violence, we need to go after the largest perpetrator (the US government) first. The people need to disarm the police and military, rather than the other way around. Only after the people have disarmed the state, and replaced the police and military with community self-defense groups, could we safely start working on a local level towards voluntary disarmament (i.e. once arms are no longer necessary to defend our communities against violence).

Rahmatullah, 19, a victim of a NATO air strike, tries to sit up on his bed in a hospital in KabulPhoto: Ramatullah, a 19-year old Afghan boy who was the victim of a NATO airstrike

Deconstructing recent propaganda surrounding “vigilante groups” in Southern Mexico

The corrupt local government was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.
The corrupt local government of Cheran, Michoacán, was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.

There is a lot of propaganda in the corporate media right now regarding community self-defense groups (“autodefensas”) in Mexico. Papers such as the LA Times, the Guardian, and Washington Post are calling them “vigilante groups” to give the image of random gangs of people running around with guns and arbitrarily shooting people they don’t like, and is talking about how the government is coming in to “restore peace”.

First of all, regarding the term “vigilante”, most of these groups are not random individuals with guns “taking the law into their own hands”. They are well-organized groups of trusted/respected citizens, who have decided that they want the cartels out of town. They have also decided that the police and government are controlled by the cartels, and so they need to go as well. Autodefensas are the result of community members coming together and deciding that they wanted to take their town back from the cartels, and that the only way to do this was to take up arms against them.This movement for self-determination and community self-defense is spreading like wildfire, in dozens of towns across southern Mexico.

Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.
Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.

Second, regarding the military coming in to “restore peace” — they are talking about the “peace” of living under constant terror from the cartels controlling these towns, people being tortured and beheaded, laws made by corrupt politicians and cops that work for the cartels. This is what the military is coming in to restore. The drug cartels, the rich, and the Mexican government cannot be considered as separate groups — at the top, you have the same people benefiting from all three. These criminal elites are terrified about what is happening in Michoacán — people taking back community power by force, kicking out the cops and governments that give the cartels/rich their power. This is why there is suddenly this wave of propaganda coming out of the corporate media in both Mexico and the U.S. trying to paint these groups as “vigilantes”. This is why the Mexican government is sending in the military to restore the “order” of their criminal syndicates controlling the towns. When you hear the corporate media say that the Mexican army is coming in to “restore order”, know that this is code for the cartel-dominated army coming in to put the cartels back in charge of these towns, and brutally kill all of the people who tried to take back their own communities.

Please, whenever you see your friends sharing these propaganda articles from the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. regarding “vigilante groups”, help them understand the reality of the situation. Deconstruct the propaganda for them, and promote the use of the term “community self-defense” instead of the loaded term “vigilante”.

Here is a great documentary (~45 minutes) about the community self-defense groups in the town of Cheran, Michoacán:

Wikipedia as participatory mass media

Monthly traffic statistics for the Wikipedia article "War on Drugs" --- over 45,000 people this month
Web traffic statistics for the Wikipedia article “War on Drugs“, which consistently receives over 40,000 visitors per month. Reaching hundreds of thousands of people per year, this article could have a significant impact on the drug prohibition debate in the United States. (click to enlarge)

Wikipedia is the 6th most trafficked website on the Internet, with hundreds of millions of visitors per month. Many individual articles receive tens of thousands of visits per month. (For example, the article on global warming receives 500,000+ views per month, the one on the military budget of the United States gets 58,000+ hits/month, and the article on surveillance gets 40,000+ views per month.) This is larger than the circulation of many newspapers and magazines. Wikipedia articles are often at the top of search engine results, meaning that they will often be the first site that people look at when they are seeking to learn about a new subject. Because of the high traffic and visibility, and the fact that anyone with a computer and internet access can edit it, Wikipedia can be considered a form of participatory mass media.

Like other forms of mass media, content on Wikipedia can have a significant social impact by shaping people’s beliefs about the world. A strategically placed photo, chart, quote, or paragraph can expose thousands of people a day to critical information that they would never hear about in high-school textbooks or the nightly corporate news. Given the amount of effort that is expended to try to gain a TV spot that might be seen by a few thousand people for one night, it’s disappointing that more activists are not working to gain a foothold in Wikipedia, where they can reach thousands of people per day, perpetually.

For example, take a look at the article “Paramilitarism in Colombia“, which covers the history of right-wing death squads in Colombia, and examines how they have been backed by the U.S. government and multinational corporations. Because of the content that Wikipedia editors have added here, people visiting the article will learn about the role of U.S. counterinsurgency experts in creating the paramilitary groups, see photos of massacres committed by paramilitaries, and learn about their role in cocaine trafficking — things which are almost never mentioned in the media dialogue surrounding the civil war in Colombia. This article receives 2500-3000 visitors per month, which could (especially when coupled with work on related articles such as Plan Colombia, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, etc.) have a significant impact on the work of human rights activists who are working to end the violence in Colombia, by informing thousands of people about what is happening there and what the real roots of the problem are.

Screenshot of the Wikipedia article "Paramilitarism in Colombia"
The article “Paramilitarism in Colombia” receives thousands of views per month, and will teach readers about the role of the U.S. military, multinational corporations, and the Colombian government in propping up right wing death squads. This augments the efforts of human rights groups who are working to stop the violence in Colombia, by ensuring that thousands of people will be informed about the issue — an issue that the corporate media rarely even mentions (click image to enlarge)

Anyone who is interested in educating people and shaping public opinion should seriously consider learning how to edit Wikipedia, and begin working on topics related to their own activist work. There are literally hundreds of thousands of articles out there that need to be edited and improved. For instance, social justice activists could target articles on poverty or prisons. Privacy groups could target articles on surveillance technologies. These changes will augment the efforts of people doing activist work “on the ground”, by exposing tens of thousands of people per month to accurate information regarding the issues they are working on. Wikipedia is a powerful tool for raising public awareness … and it’s free and open for you to edit it. Take advantage of this!

People who are interested in learning more about Wikipedia can feel free to contact me with any questions about how to get started. In the near future, I plan to write more about how to edit Wikipedia, where to find good references for articles, and some of the challenges that Wikipedia editors might face when trying to edit Wikipedia articles (such as organized censorship/propaganda teams and systemic bias).

CIA torture research and its applications, from MKULTRA to Abu Ghraib

For years, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the United States government “really” tortures, or if it is doing something that is supposedly more benign (“harsh interrogation”, “psychological pressure”, etc). However, anyone who takes an honest look at history will have no doubt that the U.S. does torture.

The U.S. government has used beating, burning, cutting, rape, electrocution,  dismemberment, solitary confinement, hooding, stress positions, shackling, etc. — anything their sadistic minds can come up with to get what they want. Let’s take a minute to explore some history of torture by people working for the the U.S. government.

South Vietnamese soldier tortures VC prisoner
January 9, 1964: a South Vietnamese soldier uses the end of a dagger to beat a farmer for allegedly supplying government troops with inaccurate information about the movement of Viet Cong guerrillas in a village west of Saigon

As part of the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, the United States military and CIA captured, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. Common methods of torture in the CIA interrogation centers included:

“Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electric shock (‘the Bell Telephone Hour’) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; the ‘water treatment’; the ‘airplane’ in which the prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.”‘

State terrorism and neoliberalism: the North in the South

Military intelligence officer K. Milton Osborne witnessed the following use of torture in Vietnam:

“The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages … The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to … both both the women’s vaginas and men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission.”

Vietnam: the (last) war the U.S. lost

Hooded prisoner, wired up for electroshock torture -- Abu Ghraib
Hooded prisoner, wired up for electroshock torture — Abu Ghraib

This was not limited to Vietnam. The CIA and U.S. military trained thousands of Latin American police and military personnel in torture techniques. Here’s some testimony from a trainee in El Salvador:

“The officers said ‘We are going to teach you … how to teach a lesson to these guerrillas’. The officers who were teaching us this were the American Green Berets … then they began to torture this young fellow. They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took off his fingernails, they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. They took out their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin … They then took his hair off and the skin off his scalp. When they saw that there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him … the next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. “
— Witness testimony from El Salvador, Covert Action Information Bulletin, March 1982

The corpse of Manadel al-Jamadi -- Abu Ghraib prison, 2003
The corpse of Manadel al-Jamadi — Abu Ghraib prison, 2003

However during the 1960s, in a quest for more effective interrogation techniques, the CIA began funding a large number of psychological-control/torture experiments using human subjects in the United States. These experiments, known by their CIA cryptonym “MKULTRA”, determined that physical pain, while certainly a vital tool, was not actually the most effective method for achieving psychological dominance over an unwilling subject (the ultimate goal of all torture).

What worked better than using physical abuse alone, was to use techniques that were carefully designed to break people down psychologically, making them feel totally helpless and dependent upon the torturer. Shame/degradation, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, heavy doses of pharmaceuticals, and self-inflicted pain were actually found to work better than just ripping someone’s fingernails off and electrocuting their genitals. This is not to say that physical abuse has stopped (as you can see from the photos here), but rather that these physical methods are much more effective when combined with advanced, scientifically tested psychological torture techniques.

For example, one of the MKULTRA subprojects most relevant to the torture camps of today (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, etc.) is Project ARTICHOKE, which was described by the CIA as follows:

Project Artichoke -- excerpt from CIA internal memo

The goal of ARTICHOKE was to find answers to the question:

“Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?”

— De-classified 1952 Project ARTICHOKE memo

I’ve been reading a book recently, called A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, by Alfred McCoy, which is talking about the history of the CIA’s torture techniques — how they were developed, where they have been applied, and what legal/political issues have arisen as a result. McCoy points out that when people talk about MKULTRA, they often focus on the fact that government agents dosed people will LSD and other such things, that just sound weird or crazy, for example:

[…] There were at least three CIA safe houses in the Bay Area where experiments went on. Chief among them was 225 Chestnut on Telegraph Hill, which operated from 1955 to 1965. The L-shaped apartment boasted sweeping waterfront views, and was just a short trip up the hill from North Beach’s rowdy saloons. Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients to the apartment served up acid-laced cocktails to unsuspecting johns, while martini-swilling secret agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed, some disguised as electrical outlets.

Abu Ghraib guard punching bound and hooded prisonersTo get the guys in the mood, the walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The agents grew fascinated with the kinky sex games that played out between the johns and the hookers. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action […]”

— “Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed San Francisco Citizens with LSD

A prisoner at Abu Ghraib, with feces smeared all over his body. Humiliation and sexual abuse/degradation are key components of the CIA’s psychological torture system
A prisoner at Abu Ghraib, with feces smeared all over his body. Humiliation and sexual abuse/degradation are key components of the CIA’s psychological torture system

This is certainly disturbing: federal agents dosing San Francisco residents with LSD, without their knowledge, and then having them enact  bondage/rape/torture … watching through a one way mirror, chugging martinis, in order to develop more effective torture techniques … It lays waste to the claim that they are concerned with “protecting” the public. The people that were doing it certainly didn’t have any illusions that this was what they were up to:

“… it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and bidding of the All-highest?”

— 1971 letter to MKULTRA overseer Sidney Gottlieb, from George Hunter White, who oversaw the Operation Midnight Climax experiments

But while the things that were done during Operation Midnight Climax were horrible, they become even more repulsive when viewed in the wider context of all of the MKULTRA experiments, and the overarching ends towards which Midnight Climax was aiming.

Even here, in what are are often referred to as “LSD experiments”, the air of a torture chamber is clearly present. The bondage porn, photographs of tortured women on the walls to “get the guys in the mood” … men watching from behind two-way mirrors at the torture scene inside, which they are directing …

Abu Ghraib prisoner covered in shitThe solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, humiliation (being rubbed in feces, etc.), threats of violence against loved ones, and other forms of psychological torture employed today at places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (which are combined with traditional methods like rape, electrocution, beatings, etc.), are all elements of a torture system designed — with funding from the CIA and military — in the science labs of U.S./Canadian universities, in mental hospital electroshock chambers, and in covert experiments on civilians such as Operation Midnight Climax.

The techniques developed during these experiments were later integrated into the CIAs KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual and other training programs, and are still being used by the U.S. and fascist police forces around the world.

“The frequent screams of the patients that echoed through the hospital did not deter Cameron or most of his associates in their attempts to depattern their subjects completely.”

Ewen Cameron‘s psychological torture/control experiments done as part of MKULTRA

Another victim of torture at Abu Ghraib, 2003
Another victim of torture at Abu Ghraib, 2003, displaying his wounds/scars

Federal officials were aware that these experiments, and their desire to torture people, would be repulsive to the public; so they took active steps to hide the existence of these programs from them, and continued the programs with the full knowledge that they were unethical and illegal:

The concepts involved in manipulating human behavior are found by many people both within and outside the Agency to be distasteful and unethical. […] Public disclosure of some aspects of MKULTRA activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion.

— John Earman, CIA Inspector General

“While I share your uneasiness and distaste for any program which tends to intrude upon an individual’s private and legal prerogatives, I believe it is necessary that the Agency maintain a central role in this activity.”

— Richard Helms, CIA Deputy Director of Plans

We should never fall into the trap of believing that when some horrendous example of U.S. torture is leaked to the public, that it is just a problem caused by “a few bad apples”. The system used by the Bush and Obama administrations is simply the “state of the art” in torture technique, based on decades of careful experimentation. The use of torture by the U.S. government is nothing new. What is new is the techniques and strategies they are using, and the way they talk about torture.

Good times in Abu Ghraib -- necrophilia
Good times in Abu Ghraib

Whose Constitution?

It is widely known that the U.S. political system today is dominated by a relatively small group of extremely wealthy individuals, who further their own interests at the expense of the vast majority of the population. But I believe it is a mistake to say that this situation has arisen because the original system has been “corrupted”, and that we just need to go back to the “good old days” when the founding fathers were in charge of the country and the Constitution was the law of the land …

The Constitution was designed by rich and powerful men to serve their own minority interests

Slavers, bankers, and other rich scum at the Constitutional convention
The Constitutional Convention of 1787, where a bunch of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Americas met together in secret and planned out a form of government that would perpetually maintain oligarchical rule in the United States.

Who were the Founding Fathers, and what did they intend to create at the Constitutional Convention? The story we’re told in our high-school history books is that this group, composed of the wealthiest and most influential men in post-Revolutionary America, had temporarily set aside their own economic interests (including their ownership of slaves and war debt) and together designed a brilliant democratic political system that guaranteed “liberty and justice for all”. This system is enshrined in the most holy of US political documents, the United States Constitution.

Of course, today, if I were to suggest that a bunch of billionaires should be allowed to call a secret meeting and design a system of government, without consulting the public, and that they could be trusted to set aside their own interests while doing so, I would be considered naive at best. Yet for some reason, people happily accept that this is what happened at the Constitutional Convention.

In reality these slave-owning aristocrats were facing a nationwide upsurge of democratic “leveling” sentiment that aimed to redistribute wealth and political power, and felt that the Articles of Confederation weren’t doing an adequate job at combating this tendency. Thus they came together to design a system that they felt would better protect their position of privilege. If you doubt that this was their intention, take a look at what the Founding Fathers themselves were saying:

Alexander Hamilton:

“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontroling disposition requires checks.”

James Madison:

“The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. … In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

” It ought finally to occur to a people deliberating on a Government for themselves, that as different interests necessarily result from the liberty meant to be secured, the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the minority. In all civilized Countries the people fall into different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests. There will be creditors & debtors, farmers, merchants & manufacturers. There will be particularly the distinction of rich & poor. … In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce. An increase of population will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, & secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in in this Country, but symtoms, of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in a certain quarters to give notice of the future danger. How is this danger to be guarded against on republican principles? How is the danger in all cases of interested coalitions to oppress the minority to be guarded against?”

Edmund Randolph:

“Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions. It is a maxim which I hold incontrovertible, that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches. None of the constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”

Or, most succinctly, John Jay:

“The people who own the country ought to govern it.”

This type of anti-democratic, oligarchic sentiment permeated the Convention. Unwilling to accept what the majority of the population wanted — democracy and economic equality — they decided instead to design a system of government which would enable the “minority of the opulent” to impose their wishes upon the people — exactly the type of system we live under today.

Bearberry / Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)


Low, creeping, evergreen herb … red berries … waxy oval leaves. Take a look:

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of berries and leaves
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), closeup of berries and leaves … The berries are edible, but rather bland and mealy. They are best when added to other foods that have a richer flavor texture.


Bearberry is a “pioneer” plant. This means that when a mature, stable ecosystem is disturbed (such as when a timber company comes in and destroys a forest), bearberry will be one of the first species to move in and establish itself.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Growing in a mat on a rock
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) – Growing in a creeping mat on a rock (the dark green groundcover with the red berries)

Edible Uses

Berries can be eaten, but are dry, mealy, and bland. They aren’t bad though — try mixing them in as nutritious “filler” with one of your stews.

Medicinal Uses

Bearberry is one of the most effective herbal treatments for urinary tract infections, and was used by numerous Native American tribes for this purpose. Chemically, a compound known as hydroquinone (which is present in high amounts in the leaves of bearberry) is responsible. Hydroquinone is strongly antiseptic and antibacterial — and is especially effective against all of the small group (~5 to be precise) of organisms which are normally responsible for causing urinary tract infections.

The hydroquinone in bearberry, however, is contained within a compound called arbutin, which is essentially hydroquinine with some attached sugars. In order for the hydroquinone to act on your body, you need alkaline urine to ensure that once the bonds attaching the sugars to the hydroquinone have been broken, that it will remain a free molecule that can float around in there and kill those nasty infectious little beasties … That is, the hydroquinine will still detach from the sugars if your urine is not alkaline, but it will quickly combine with other chemical compounds, and pass out of your system without doing anything.

How to get alkaline urine? Simple: consume a lot of basic (as in high pH) food/drinks such as milk, cheese, etc. And avoid foods/drinks that contain large amounts of vitamin C and acids — no coffee, orange juice, or key lime pie for you!

Like any other strong medicine, bearberry has a few cautions. First off, pregnant women and children should not be treated with bearberry. It has the effect of reducing bloodflow to the fetus of pregnant women, and is somewhat harsh on the liver, which young kids have a hard time handling. Also, it should not be used for longer than a week — if it still burns when you tinkle after a week of it … you should probably try something else!

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of leaves and stem
The medicinal part of bearberry is the leaves, which contain hydroquinone – highly effective at treating urinary tract infections.

Other Uses

This plant was smoked by a large number of Native American tribes along with or instead of tobacco and other smoking mixtures.

Also used to make yellow-red dye …

Commonly planted as an attractive & edible groundcover in yards and gardens.


The name means “bear grapes”, derived from Greek arkto (bear) and staphyle (grape). [[wiki]]

Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, “grape, berry of the vine”, ursi, “bear”, i.e. “bear’s grape”. [[wikipedia]]

References / Bibliography

* Plants for a Future — Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Wikipedia — Bearberry
Wikipedia — Arctostaphylos

* Botanical.com — Bearberry

* Effects of Bearberry — Uva-ursi for urinary tract infections